It’s less a virtuous circle, and more a vicious cycle

Dani Salvadori’s description of the ‘virtuous circle’ created by university design consultancies (Letters, DW 2 October) is far from the reality faced by practising product designers.

Liquidations, redundancies and a downturn in orders contrast with a massive expansion in the provision of publicly funded design consultancy by universities.

Whether university consultancies provide a good service is arguable, but they should not be using public money to compete with the commercial sector, where people are losing their jobs and businesses.

Salvadori’s ‘virtuous circle’ is really a vicious cycle. Every year, a similar number of product designers graduate as are employed in the entire consultancy sector (according to Nesta statistics). The design industry can’t offer enough placements – there are just too many students and courses. Consultancies, under pressure, cannot engage with academics, who now use the lack of career opportunities as a justification for seeking public funding to offer design consultancy services.

There are no parallels in other branches of vocational higher education. For example, accountancy graduates follow many careers without universities creating accountancy practices.

The reality is that some universities have latched on to opportunities to make money, oblivious to the impact on the design industry. We know of one which offers straightforward consultancy in direct competition with commercial designers who can’t access comparable funding.

We have to pay rent and wages, and have no access to subsidies. There is no failure in the market to justify increasing supply by public intervention. Universities have engineered this situation.

Matthew Link, Matthew Link Design; Alistair Williamson, Lucid Innovation; Jonathan Butters, Butters Innovation; Ian Murison, Curventa; Ben Smithson, Edge Product Development; James Roberts, James Roberts Design; Louis Della-Porta, First Hand Design; Jonathan Knight, Frazer Design; Chaz Nandra, Design Stream, by e-mail

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